Just a taste

Looking for a quick read before bed? Need a short story for a read-aloud for the end of Black History Month? Want a literary palate cleanser after the news of the day?

Look no further.

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This YA compilation of short stories is quite a treat. All are historical fiction or historical fantasy – some written by big names in YA (for example, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Elizabeth Wein) and some by names that should be bigger than they are (likewise, J. Anderson Coats, Leslye Walton, Lindsay Smith).

The author’s notes at the end of each story -explaining their choice of historical era ranging from pirates to Black Panthers- are a wonderful feature of the anthology. Chock-full of diverse and delightful heroines, the book can be gobbled or savored as you choose.

While many reviewers on Goodreads lamented the shortness of the stories, I thought they were just the right size. Like a great piece of chocolate – wonderful, but leaving you wanting just a little more.

Might just have to buy this one for my shelves so I can re-read my favorites!

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What I read this summer

As I wrote way back in June, I’m not headed back to school this year. While I miss seeing my students and setting up displays of new books to share, I don’t miss being on the school schedule. (7:30 AM bus, anyone?)

It was a luxurious summer of settling into my new job and starting to shovel out the slush pile. Which was not only educational, but enjoyable. (Yes, I’m *that* crazy about reading.)

What else did I read? I caught up on some grown-up reading, enjoyed several new mysteries, and of course, treated myself to some kid lit.

  • The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
  • Girl Parts by John Cusick
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • First and Then by Emma Mills  – Emma’s newest is almost out ! Watch for This Adventure Ends!
  • Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
  • Damage Done by Amanda Panitch
  • Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland
  • The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is waiting on my bedside table for the perfect moment, and Betsy Bird’s Wild Things! has moved from the bookshelf to my bedside, too.

I’m thinking I need to read all of Erdrich’s Birchbark stories and dive into the pile of Candlewick advance copies I was so generously given. I meant to read so much more this summer, but much of my time was spent writing my second novel, which is finished and awaiting critique at Kathy Temean’s Avalon retreat.

Too many books, too little time. I never did get around to pruning my Goodreads to-read list. But that’s a good problem to have.

What did you love reading this summer?

NYC Reads

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If you’re in need of a reading list for Pre-K through 12th grade, check out the wonderful lists at NYC Reads 365, compiled by a committee of school librarians (who else?) and reviewed by literacy specialists from the NYC DOE. The downloadable posters and bookmarks for each borough are pretty cool, too!

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And if you’re a fan – and who isn’t? – the upcoming exhibit of Mo Willems’ art at The New-York Historical Society is not to be missed. No matter how many copies I buy for my library of the Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and Trixie books, they’re soon loved to death. And if you want a sure-fire read-aloud, We are In a Book! always gets laughs galore. (No matter how well the audience knows it.) Not to mention Mo is a really swell guy. Not only did he sign my daughter’s books, he posed for a photo so I could show her I’d really met him at the SCBWI NY conference some years back.

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All of these thoughts on NYC reading got me thinking about my favorite NYC books. Besides Mo’s books. 🙂

In no particular order:

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Harriet the Spy
  • When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy, and Goodbye Stranger
  • Bernard Waber’s Lyle books (The House on 88th Street begins the series)
  • Kay Thompson’s Eloise books
  • Gregor the Overlander
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Rita Garcia-Williams’ Gaither Sisters trilogy (the girls live in New York, even though much of the action is elsewhere)
  • Uptown
  • Blackout
  • All-of-a-Kind Family
  • Under the Egg
  • Tar Beach
  • Balloons Over Broadway
  • The Grimm Legacy
  • Sky Boys

And of course,

  • The Snowy Day
  • This Is New York

Did I miss any of your favorites? Leave a shout-out in the comments. 🙂

My Best Books 2015

It’s that time of year when everyone makes lists of their favorite books of 2015!

My favorites? (I have to list them in no particular order. It would be like ranking children. 😉 )

  • The Wrath and The Dawn
  • Dumplin’
  • Absolutely Truly
  • Sheila Turnage’s Tupelo Landing books
  • Ember in the Ashes
  • Written in the Stars
  • Bone Gap
  • Courage for Beginners
  • If Ever I Get Out of Here
  • A Time to Dance
  • Girls Like Us
  • Rain Reign
  • Hidden
  • The Jumbies
  • Crenshaw
  • Goodbye Stranger
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here
  • Rita Garcia-Williams’ Gaither Sister trilogy

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have gingerbread men to make and e-books to load on my Kindle for my upcoming holiday travels. 🙂

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!

Neither MG nor YA

Sometimes you miss out on  amazing things. This week, McNally Jackson Books here in NYC had a panel I would have LOVED to have attended: “Middle School is Hell,” organized by Kate Milford, moderated by Connie Hsu of Roaring Brook Press, with Kate, Rebecca Stead, and Mariko Tamaki speaking.

Sorry, Wright, Cespedes, and Murphy – that was the lineup I wanted to see. (But if you’ve got World Series tix for Citi Field, you’re not using, I’m rooting for the Mets.  😉  Go, Amazin’s! )

Beyond the stellar lineup, I was intrigued by the topic: the hole in the market for books aimed at kids 12-14 years old. I see this every day in my library – even though my oldest students are 11, if that. Many of them are reading beyond their age and grade, but not so much as to read YA. And the ones that do read YA don’t always seem to enjoy it or comprehend it full, given their comments to me.

The panel agreed that 12-14 is an awkward age, but I think it goes beyond that.  The gap between 13 and 16 is much wider than the gap between, say, 6 and 9 – wider emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

Let’s face it, kids at this age are more sophisticated readers, and many of the books  for middle grade seem babyish or are too quickly finished. These kids want something they can sink their teeth into, and I found that Puffin Classics work really well for them. But there’s only so many classic books, and many of these kids want something modern. They want books that are more complex, with bigger issues, but they don’t necessarily want all the romance (never mind sex) of YA or its all too frequent navel-gazing. And many parents definitely don’t want their not-quite or just-barely teens reading about sex, drugs, violence and other content typically found in books targeting older teens.

I’ve experienced this myself, not just with my child and her reading, but with my writing. I deliberately targeted this age group with my fantasy, and I’ve gotten feedback that I needed to age my characters up “so it’ll work for YA” or change the emphasis on certain themes so “MG can relate more.”

Maybe we all need to loosen up a little and let the readers find the book. After all, many adults find Pullman impenetrable – but I know plenty of kids who love him.

Maybe publishing will become even more granular, with a new category aimed at 12-14. MS for middle school? YT for younger teens? NQYA? (Not Quite YA.)

What do you think?

Books with a difference

Diversity in children’s books is a big issue, but there are books that deal with children of all kinds, whether different in ability, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. Or some combination of any or all of those differences.

Four books that made me say “Wow!” recently:

  1. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – This story of a Southeast Asian- American girl’s being forced into marriage by her conservative immigrant parents was impossible to put down.
  2. Girls Like Us by Gail Giles – Two “Speddies” become room-mates after graduation, facing past and present prejudice and violence, but ultimately gaining friendship and hope.
  3. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – While some folks may say this doesn’t count as a diverse book, I’d say that the working poverty of its protagonist’s family makes it diverse. All too often, children’s books feature protagonists with plenty of money – or the extreme opposite.
  4. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia. Like I said last week, oh my! The Gaither sisters visit their beloved Big Ma in Alabama, confronting both the realities of the American South in the late 1960’s and difficult family relationships (their own and those of their great-grandmother and great-aunt).

All of these books were excellent in their own way, and each could be used successfully with a curriculum that requires students to read fiction about social issues. For readers who are mature enough, Girls Like Us in particular would be a great read instead of the ever-popular Wonder and Out of My Mind. 

Here’s to books that make a difference!

One crazy summer

And it’s not over yet! Not till after Labor Day.

As always I’ve been reading like a fiend, and I thought I’d share with you some of my summer reading. The list is in order by when I read them, June – August. A lack of comments does NOT imply I did not enjoy the book. And it’s not a complete list. There’s always some grown-up books I’m reading. 🙂

  1. Harry Potter – re-read all seven books.
  2. The Winner’s Curse
  3. Nothing But Blue 
  4. Stoker & Holmes numbers 2 & 3
  5. Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Smoke and Bone #3)
  6. I Capture the Castle  – Written before YA was YA, enchanting
  7. House of Ivy & Sorrow
  8. Steering Toward Normal Rebecca Petruck kindly provided the writing prompts for #KidLitSummer School & boy, can she write!
  9. Look Into My Eyes (Ruby Redfort #1)
  10. Heroes of Olympus series  – Would you believe my husband started reading them on vacation & couldn’t put ’em down? I had to see what enthralls boys of all ages.
  11. The Edge of Nowhere (Whidbey Island #1) – Love her Inspector Lynley mysteries, had to see if she could write YA
  12. The Gaither Sisters trilogy  –re-read One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven; read Gone Crazy in Alabama, oh my!
  13. Ember in the Ashes – hot and hyped and a really good fantasy
  14. One Thing Stolen

Still on my nightstand?

  1. Rain Reign
  2. Girls Like Us
  3. George’s Whidbey Island series #2 and #3
  4. Crenshaw -It’s my end of summer treat. Maybe I’ll save it for read-aloud and discover it along with my students?
  5. Fangirl – OK, I’m still working on my haul from BEA 2015.
  6. Ruby Redfort #2 and #3 – These are FUN. I plan on handing them to kids looking for a modern Nancy Drew.
  7. Ava and Taco Cat
  8. The Name of the Blade – Licking my lips for this one. YA fantasy & Japanese mythology. Bring it on.
  9. Wild Boy – Another contender for the read it with my kids pile. 🙂
  10. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

And one of the days I HAVE to read my child’s latest all-time favorite book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Sorry, hon. I know you want it to be “your” book, but if it’s THAT good…